Mason and Vito

Top 10 Moments … So Far: Vito Mannone’s Epic Penalty Save

As we prepare for Minnesota United’s first-ever home playoff game on Sunday, October 20 against the LA Galaxy, we’re taking an opportunity to look back at 10 of our favorite moments from what was a historic, dramatic and action-packed 2019 regular season.

July was when things started to get real. While the Loons never dipped below the playoff line this season, an early June swoon that saw MNUFC lose three straight heading into the international break meant that results in the dog days of summer, packed with matchups against Western Conference foes hovering around Minnesota in the standings, would be absolutely essential for the club’s postseason aspirations.

A win against San Jose at home and another against Montreal on the road, set up the battle with FC Dallas at Allianz Field as a heavyweight bout and that’s exactly how it played out, with the teams slugging it out and landing body blows all game long without finding a knockout punch. With five minutes of stoppage time just having been announced, a goalless draw likely felt a fair result, but following a somewhat weak clearance, midfielder Jan Gregus found himself with enough space to shift the ball to his favored right foot and draw goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez just far enough right to strike a ball across his body and towards the left foot. Gonzalez got a hand on it but it trickled out to forward Mason Toye, who pounced and drilled it into the back of the net for a one goal lead.

MNUFC just had to hold on, but FC Dallas weren’t about to make it easy.

Minutes later, a bit of last ditch defending by the Loons saw the visitors earn a penalty kick very near the death. Goalkeeper Vito Mannone, though, had done his homework. FC Dallas’s penalty kick, captain Reto Ziegler, favored shooting to the right side. As they prepped for the kick, the coaching staff reminded Mannone of this. But as the kick unfolded, Mannone sensed something.

“His run up was telling me something different from what I saw in the video,” he said. “And I waited, waited, waited.”

Ziegler drove the shot to his left side and Mannone dove hard to the right, shoving the ball away as the crowd erupted. He leapt to his feet and pumped his fist. “A penalty is a chance for the keeper to become the hero and that’s how I feel it every time. I looked at the ball and I thought, this is my moment,” Mannone said. “This is my one.”

The season is long. It’s not always clear when a moment is one of the moments. Some losses that feel crushing at the time can fade, and some wins grow bigger over time. Toye’s goal and Mannone’s save felt massive at the time, but it’s also now clear that the win over Dallas went a long way to cementing the team’s identity as a gritty, hard-nosed team and Allianz Field’s standing as a fortress. The win not only paved the way for Minnesota’s path to the playoffs, it also showed what was possible for a team that has come to believe in itself.